Firstly, can I thank you on behalf of the Trade Union Reform Campaign for consulting on reforming Trade Union Facility time. As you are aware TURC has been campaigning on time issue ever since we uncovered the actions of “Nurse” Jane Pilgrim who was a fulltime activist paid for by St Georges’ Hospital in Tooting. We are delighted that so many Members of Parliament have joined our advisory council because they too are so concerned about this issue.
Whilst you have invited responses only from Trade Unions themselves we felt it was important for you to have the fullest possible information at your disposal and would be grateful if you would consider the following submission.
Reporting and benchmarking
In the consultation document it is suggested that the Government publish all facility time and create benchmarks to ensure some consistency throughout Whitehall.
We welcome the acceptance of the need for transparency, but we believe that this can only an interim measure. We would encourage the Government to implement this step only in order to assist in making the case to the public for abolition. Transparency is a means not an end however it is a step in the right direction.
On the issue of benchmarking, ACAS guidelines say it is good practice for formal facility time agreements to be in place. We have yet to find any public body with such formal guidelines. This should be mandated and published. That way management will have their decisions on employing pilgrims open to public scrutiny and the public can hold pilgrims to account.
Limiting 100% facility time representatives
In the consultation document it is suggested that the Government end the practice of employing full time Trade Union Representatives. However, this implies that the Government might be content to see people spending 50% of their time on paid union duties.
Recently Rachel Reeves MP (Lab, Leeds West), asked what the practical difference was between one person spending all their time on Union work and two people spending 50% of their time. The cost to the taxpayer is the same and we risk going round in circles. Abolition represents best value for the taxpayer and avoids the risk of the time they take creeping up again once the issue is out of the headlines.
We maintain that abolition removes any ambiguity and polling data suggests 86% of the public share our view.
Reviewing paid time off for activities
The existing legislation draws a distinction between trade union “activities” which cannot be funded and “duties” which can be funded. The consultation exposes that a great deal of so called “activities” are going on. There is no legal justification for this and it must stop. The Consultation proposes some sensible ways in which this might be done.
However, we should go further. The trade unions have clearly been abusing their position and have had workers doing trade union activity to which they were not entitled. We wish to see a full audit of such arrangements over the last ten years and a bill given to the respective trade unions for this state employee moonlighting in which they have been apparently complicit. Where individuals have engaged in such activity with no management approval we expect to see the same sort of disciplinary proceedings which any moonlighting worker would expect.
Reduction in overall facility time and ensuring appropriate use of facilities across the Civil Service
This is really the crux of the proposal — to use the benchmarks and transparency to drill down on the amount of paid time taken. A good start would be an interim commitment to using the private sector as a benchmark – this would see facility time fall by 75%.
The consultation proposes a case by case review of what office space, phones, photocopiers and other facilities are being provided to the Unions.
Our view remains that Trade Unions have offices and budgets so they should either use their own offices or pay a fair rent public buildings. There is no reason why they need this ‘in kind’ subsidy, and we can see no justification for the taxpayer providing it. The consultation offers a good opportunity for these indirect subsidies to the trade union movement to be exposed.
• There is no commitment to end facility time. It is surely immoral to be paying nurses not to nurse and teachers not to teach. We urge the Government to have the courage to state plainly that people should do the jobs for which they were employed and not be paid to do a different job for some other organisation.
• There is no commitment to end the practice which sees union dues docked at source by Government payroll departments. This is a huge indirect subsidy which sees Government acting as a free membership departments for the unions. This subsidy should end or, at the very least, be charged a commercial rate.
• The consultation only covers the civil service. However, our research has shown that the real abuse occurs in schools, the NHS and local Government. After all the infamous Jane Pilgrim was supposedly a nurse — except she wasn’t nursing. Eric Pickles is making sterling strides in the DCLG on this subject. But we now need the health and education departments to follow the lead of the DCLG and Cabinet Office in exposing this practice in the full knowledge that the more the public see, the less they will like.
In general we think it is important to bear in mind that the Prime Minister said that fulltime Trade Union Officials funded by the taxpayer “cannot be justified morally or economically”. Also the issue has been subject to a number of Parliamentary Questions, Early Day Motions and Debates in the House of Commons. We believe this shows the level of anger amongst MPs and the general public about this large state subsidy to the Unions and we urge the Government to act.